Thoughts on FOLKLORN

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? Got my second Pfizer shot last week and had a few days of being beyond tired, plus some other minor side effects that really only lasted the night after the shot. I’m fine now. And I’m still breaking in my new computer. But enough about that stuff! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to request something a little different. It’s a strange mixture of ghost story and fairy tale and some kind of literary fiction. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur was released yesterday (the 27th) from Erewhon Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Folklorn follows Elsa Park, a particle physicist, as she runs into an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Antarctica. The problem? Her old friend is imaginary. When the friend follows her to Sweden, then back to America, Elsa both fears for her sanity and relishes in the familiar comfort and safety her childhood friend provides. Elsa must fight for her place in the world, overcome family issues, and decipher the riddle-like fairy tales her mother left for her. Otherwise, she risks losing herself completely.

The plot of this story feels secondary to the character development, which gives it a very different vibe compared to more traditional genre stories. Yes, there’s an imaginary friend pushing Elsa to complete quests leading to a big reveal, but the monsters and obstacles are all too human. And the real payoff is Elsa’s realizations about her mother and father and brother, but mostly herself. Her own transformation is the best thing about this book, though the interspersed fairy tales are a close second to me.

Everyone keeps transforming in this book.

Speaking of character development, Elsa isn’t the only one who grows throughout this story, but let’s start with her. We see her transform from a closed off, almost bitter person into someone who can work through their issues and open themselves a bit. She isn’t great at it yet, but she’s chosen to make the effort. Her father turns from the monster of her youth into a pitiful old man. Her brother goes from a knight to a manipulative jerk to a normal, struggling human being. Oskar is never really a prince, but he helps Elsa during her struggles, and finds out that he’s allowed to become a different person than he was in his youth. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to evolve in real time is Elsa’s mother, but even she morphs into something new in Elsa’s mind.

A big portion of this book deals with cultural identity and finding a balance between where you come from versus where you end up. It can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you’re sensitive to race issues. But I ended up feeling like I learned some things from the book. There’s the whole aspect of immigrating to the US after the Korean war and how Elsa’s parents survived both the war and the move and found ways to both fit in and stand out in their new community. There’s also the racism Elsa and her brother faced as children (and still face) and the expectations placed on them, plus the ingrained anger between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s the racism Elsa and Oskar face in Sweden, despite Oskar being raised there. And Oskar’s entire story arc of being an adopted child. It’s about all of these things, but it’s not preachy or anything like that. It’s just people doing the best they can.

Even if we have to unlearn some stuff first.

The writing was interesting. The flow isn’t as smooth as I tend to prefer. The rhythm feels jerky, like it’s trying to trip you up as you read. This works surprisingly well for this book. It mimics Elsa’s unstable emotions. It’s weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Folklorn. The combination of genres and the general growth of the characters made this an interesting read. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more work by Angela Mi Young Hur.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairy tales and well-rounded characters, it’s definitely worth picking up. Even if you’re just looking for something different, check it out.

Thoughts on TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS

Hello, hello! How is everyone holding up during this hectic time? I hope your isolation includes lots of good books and binge watching. Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of March, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I opted for something a bit more slice of life meets magical realism meets ghost story than I normally go for. I just wanted something a little different and this fit in with that. It’s called Tigers, Not Daughters and is by Samantha Mabry. It was released on the 24th from Algonquin Young Readers. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Lovely cover.

 

Tigers, Not Daughters follows the remaining Torres sisters (Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa) as they struggle to cope with life after their oldest sister’s (Ana) death. Jessica tries to become Ana. Iridian hides herself deep within books and writing. And Rosa attempts to make sense of everything through her connections with animals. Throw in a useless drunk of a father, nosy teenage boys who want to be heroes but only make things worse, an abusive boyfriend, and a ghost just to make the sisters’ lives more difficult. Teenage angst and sisterhood. What more does a story need?

I admit I was a little on the fence about this story plot-wise. There’s a slow build before the magic and ghost story kick in, so I wasn’t grabbed in the way I’m used to with YA fantasy type books. But I’m glad I kept with it. And it’s a short book (less than 300 pages), so the wait for weird wasn’t really that long. It gave the characters a chance to shine on their own before everything else could distract from them. I enjoyed how the weirdness kind of crept in around the edges before you even realized it was there.

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As far as the characters go, we get to see most of the story from Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa’s views with a few interjections from the boys across the street. Each viewpoint is distinctive and beautiful in its own way. I didn’t even have to check the chapter headings to know whose head I was in, which is rare. It’s really hard to find characters who are similar yet different enough to stand apart from each other. I especially love Rosa, the kind and loving youngest sister who doesn’t even know what jealousy feels like until she experiences it for the first time, but who also kicks ass when she needs to. She’s the best.

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The writing is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a lovely sense of poetry that flows through this book. I think that’s what kept me reading in the beginning. I’m glad it did. It makes for easy reading as well as interesting images.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Tigers, Not Daughters. It was a wonderful glimpse into grief and family dynamics and the bonds of sisters. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by Samantha Mabry.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. Why did I take away one? Because I finished the book a few days ago and am already forgetting parts of it, which means I probably won’t remember it at all in six months. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it wasn’t memorable for me. But I still totally recommend it if you like magical realism and ghost stories about teenage girls.